Flu numbers

1,976: Number of confirmed flu cases in South Carolina since Sept. 30.1,232: Number of flu cases reported in the week ending Nov. 24.226,000: Average number of flu-related hospitalizations per year nationally.3,000-49,000: Number of flu-related deaths per year nationally.Source: CDC, DHEC

A big spike in flu cases has health officials warning people to get the vaccine available for the illness that has claimed the life of a Barnwell County child.

Vaccination

Flu shots are available at public health clinics, dozens of pharmacies and doctor’s offices.Public health clinic locations include:Berkeley CountyGoose Creek: 106 Westview Blvd.Moncks Corner: 109 W. Main St.Dorchester CountySummerville: 500 N. Main St.Charleston CountyNorth Charleston: 3963 Whipper Barony LaneCall 953-0090 to schedule an appointment at a clinic.For a list of pharmacies, go to http://flushot.healthmap.org.

Since Sept. 30, there have been 1,976 confirmed flu cases in South Carolina. Of those, 1,232 cases were reported in the week ending Nov. 24, the latest available figures from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Flu tips

Get a flu vaccination each year.Wash your hands often with soap and water. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.Stay home if you are sick until you have been symptom-free without taking fever-reducing medicine for 24 hours.Try to avoid close contact with sick people.Eat a healthy diet, exercise and get plenty of rest.Source: DHEC

In addition, 38 people have been hospitalized for symptoms related to flu, according to DHEC.

“Flu activity typically peaks in February, and it is very unusual for us to see this number of cases so early in the season,” said Dr. Linda Bell, interim state epidemiologist. “Our latest statewide activity report indicates that influenza has quickly reached widespread levels.”

Local emergency room physicians said they have seen a sharp rise in flu cases.

“It has come on with a furor,” said Dr. Ed Rodelsperger of Roper St. Francis Healthcare.

He saw five confirmed cases of flu at Roper Northwoods on Saturday night.

Rodelsperger said he is seeing a lot of young people with the illness. The anti-viral medicine Tamiflu in the pediatric dosage has been hard to find, he said. “That’s concerning.”

He began to see more patients with the flu after Thanksgiving.

“This is significantly early,” he said. “That tends to mean it could be a much more virulent season.”

Dr. Keith Borg, a Medical University of South Carolina emergency medicine specialist, likened the beginning of flu season to the part of an iceberg that is visible above water.

“You don’t know how big it is underneath,” he said.

Flu can be especially dangerous for the young, the elderly and those whose immune systems are weakened from

“You don’t know how big it is underneath,” he said.

Flu can be especially dangerous for the young, the elderly and those whose immune systems are weakened from other illness, he said.

Typically, the flu lasts several days to a week. Anti-viral medicine administered within the first 48 hours of the onset of symptoms can shorten the course of the illness by about a day and prevent transmission to family members if they also take the drug, Borg said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday reported widespread flu in South Carolina, Mississippi, Alaska and New York.

“It looks like it’s shaping up to be a bad flu season, but only time will tell,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC director.

Vaccination is the best protection against the illness that claims thousands of lives annually, he said Monday in a media conference call. DHEC recommends vaccination starting at 6 months.

This is the earliest spike in flu cases in 10 years, Frieden said. The type of flu identified this fall, H3N2, is generally associated with more severe flu seasons, but the vaccine is well-matched to protect against it, Frieden said.

Although effective, the vaccine typically produces the most benefit if it has been received at least two weeks earlier.

The flu can cause mild to severe illness. Symptoms can include a sudden onset of fever, dry cough, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, sore throat and nasal congestion or stuffiness.

“This strain of flu is having some vomiting with it, usually in the second day,” Rodelsperger said.

More than 130 million doses of the flu vaccine were made this year, and 112 million people have already been vaccinated. The vaccine remains in good supply, Frieden said.

An average of 226,000 hospitalizations and between 3,000 and 49,000 flu-related deaths occur annually. Despite the toll of the flu, more than 60 percent of Americans have not taken advantage of the flu shot so far this year, the CDC reports.

In contrast, up to 90 percent of doctors, pharmacists and nurses are vaccinated, Frieden said.

Kim Keelor, spokeswoman for Roper St. Francis Healthcare, said 5,200 of the system’s 5,400 employees have received the flu vaccine. Unless there is a good medical reason to avoid the vaccine, those who do not get the shot risk losing their job, she said.

Only 40 percent of children up to 17 years old receive the flu shot, and among adults only 35 percent get the shot, the CDC reports.

As of early November, 89 percent of pharmacists had been vaccinated, 84 percent of physicians and 82 percent of nurses nationwide. Overall, the vaccination rate among all health care providers was 63 percent.